Franklyn Silva is retiring as director of the Maui County Department of Liquor Control. I don’t believe I’ve written 14 more important words in my decade or so I’ve spent reporting on Maui.
Even just contemplating Silva’s retirement is overwhelming. As I write this I sit surrounded by years of yellowed clips from Mauitime’s early coverage of the LC. The years 2004-08 were especially exhaustive–those were the years I attended virtually every monthly Liquor Commission and Adjudication Board hearing.
Frank Silva is the Department of Liquor Control. That’s been true for the last 22 years. Silva was in charge, in every sense of the description. Where do you even start when trying to assess his legacy? The near monarchy of sons he set up? The harsh prosecutions of bars and restaurants? The ludicrous regulations–many that have nothing to do with alcohol–that Silva’s “investigators” enforced? The fact that pitchers of beer are illegal in Maui County? How about the allegations of corruption from a former LC officer that are–gasp!–quite possibly headed to a jury trial?
Allegations like the Liquor Control department accepting free donuts and sushi from various establishments that they regulate–“gifts of aloha,” according to the depositions of former LC officers in the current lawsuit brought by former LC Officer Justin Dobbs, who alleges wrongful termination. Reading through the case depositions is a nauseating experience, full of back-biting and dysfunctional office politics (one former LC Officer testified that another former female LC Officer had accused at least five of her male colleagues of sexual harassment). Here, read this snippet from former LC Officer J.D. Lloy’s deposition–made under oath–and decide whether it makes you comfortable about how the department’s been run:
ATTORNEY VENETIA CARPENTER-ASUI: “Okay. Do you see on the second paragraph you said that both Trainee Dobbs and [Cullen] Kawano got a score of 100 percent on both tests?”
J.D. LLOY: “Yes.”
CARPENTER-ASUI: “What tests were those?”
LLOY: “Tests I made up that were so easy a tenth grader could have passed them.”
Dobbs’ suit also alleges that at least one LC officer looked the other way when confronted with girls who may have been underage when they visited hostess bars.
[O]n or about December 2010 Plaintiff and Defendant MATSUURA entered the front door, and Plaintiff saw what looked like under age females run to a room in the front of the establishment and close the door,” states Dobbs’ complaint. “Plaintiff began walking to the room, and was stopped by Defendant MATSUURA who told Plaintiff ‘we do not regulated [sic] the back rooms because there is no liquor served there’, but these were under age females (younger than 21 years of age) in a liquor premises, which was a violation of law, but Defendant MATSUURA still prohibited Plaintiff from investigating or entering the room.” In his deposition, Matsuura disputed that the females were underage, testifying that he has in the past checked IDs for young-looking women at hostess bars. But Matsuura did admit in his deposition that another LC officer had quit the department after being found drinking alcohol on duty.
And so on.
Put simply, it’s a great time for Silva to pack it in (LC Officers Harry Matsuura and J.D. Lloy, named prominently in Dobbs’ lawsuit, both retired from the office shortly after Dobbs filed his suit in 2012). For a shrewd bureaucrat like Silva–who spent his younger years in U.S. Army aviation and later ran the old Ka‘anapali Airport for two years–it’s the smart move (Silva himself gave his deposition in the case less than a month before he announced his retirement). And in the decade or so that I’ve covered Silva and the LC, I never saw him do anything that wasn’t smart (for him and the LC, that is).
After all, checking out when the heat was on was exactly what his predecessor Joe Souza did when the allegations of corruption against him got too thick. In fact, back in 1993, when Souza bailed and Silva took over, the FBI was even poking around. But nothing ultimately happened to Souza (though four former LC officers suing the county for wrongful termination did get a sizeable settlement; one of the officers, Charles Bunch, later opened an adult video store in Wailuku). So there’s at least a fair chance that Silva might escape into retirement with his skin intact.
But to understand Silva’s legacy and importance–and that of the department he’s run for the last two decades–it’s first necessary to understand a few things. First–and this goes a long way to explain his longevity–Silva serves not at the behest of the Mayor (like, say, the Department of Transportation or the Prosecuting Attorney’s office) but the nine-member Liquor Commission. Each member serves a five-year term, and a mayor will typically appoint two new ones each year (who are subject to County Council approval). These commissioners–the vast majority of whom have little or no experience in the liquor industry–then approve new liquor licenses, authorize new regulations and review the director’s performance each year.
It’s also necessary to understand just how different the LC is from other departments. It’s budget is around $3 million a year, but it doesn’t draw from the general fund. Instead, the LC has two main internal revenue streams. The first is liquor license fees (both new and renewal). That comes out to about 57 cents for every $100 in gross liquor sales per year, according to LC Administrator Georgette Tyau’s testimony during the April 9, 2015 County Council Budget & Finance Committee hearing. The second revenue stream is fines levied on licensees found to have violated the department’s myriad regulations.
Put simply, the LC has a vested interest in both granting as many liquor licenses as possible (there are more than 400 now county-wide) and then hammering those same licensees with license violations. It gives the actions of the department–and its Taser-wielding investigators–a mercenary air.
“My main focus was on minors and over-service,” Silva said in the generally supportive Oct. 8 Maui News story on his retirement. “I could forgive about everything else, but those.”
Maybe Silva could personally forgive, but never found the time to call off the rest of his department, which does indeed prosecute chicken shit “violations” like printing the familiar version of an employee’s name on a timesheet. Like Lahaina Cafe, busted all of three years ago (April 2012) for failing “to have available on its licensed premises a timesheet showing in English the legal first name and surname of all employees, and time record entries when the employee reports on duty and again when the employee goes off duty.” To the LC, that’s a crime, and they fined Lahaina Cafe for it.
You know what else the LC considers a crime? Speaking obscenities on stage, having loud music and–this one’s for you News of the Weird fans–displaying “artificial pubic hair.” Yeah, yeah, none of these things have anything to do with booze, but they’re in the rules so the LC enforces them.
In 2013, for instance, the LC sent a notice of violation to Haui’s Life’s A Beach in Kihei saying it had permitted “obscene language, songs, or entertainment”–a violation that could earn the bar a $500 (or more) fine. But after I reported about the “violation,” the whole thing mysteriously disappeared from the LC Adjudication Board’s agenda.
Monitoring noise in liquor licensees is another big job for the department that has nothing to do with alcohol. In their depositions in the Dobbs lawsuit, both Lloy and Matsuura described myriad training and procedures every LC officer has to go through to get certified by state inspectors on monitoring decibel levels. Over the last decade, the LC has used its noise enforcement to the greatest effect in Kihei Kalama Village (the “Barmuda Triangle”)–a place I heard Silva describe in rather un-PC terms as “Indian country.”
Even when the LC did the right thing, it could do so in a way that just seemed unjust. The best example of this was their actions surrounding the death of 18-year-old Lauren Crossen at the Hyatt Regency in Ka‘anapali in 2004. A cheerleader in town for the Hula Bowl, Crossen had apparently fallen from a ninth floor balcony one night–her nude body was found the next morning.
The lurid story made national headlines. LC investigators eventually discovered dozens of instances in which Hyatt personnel had sold or otherwise provided Crossen with alcohol. The LC’s docket against the Hyatt included an astonishing 25 counts. At its Adjudication Board “trial”–attended by local and state media–Hyatt management pleaded no contest and accepted $50,000 in fines. But by stacking all the counts into just one case–which came about because an 18-year-old woman died–the whole matter amounted to just one “strike” (three strikes, and the LC would take away an establishment’s license).
Making matters worse, the very next case on the Adjudication Board agenda involved Kahale’s in Kihei, which was accused of selling alcohol to a minor (because it was an LC sting operation, the minor never actually drank any booze). With zero sense of irony, Prosecuting Attorney Angela Hedge called Kahale’s “a risk to the community.” The Board then suspended Kahale’s license for 10 days (the conviction was their second strike).
“It’s known throughout the state that our rules are more stringent,” then-Adjudication Board Chairperson Shigeto “Mustard” Murayama said in 2004. And the LC certainly proved him right: In the last decade, the LC has shut down Dick’s Place in Kihei, Idini’s in Wailuku and Paradice Bluz in Lahaina, all for over-serving alcohol and/or providing alcohol to minors.
Then there’s the whole thing about dancing–one of the most controversial regulations from the LC. Department rules prohibit dancing in an establishment except within a specially designated dancing zone.
“In my memory, we’ve never fined anyone or taken their license away for dancing,” LC Deputy Director Traci Fujita Villarosa said in an Oct. 7 Honolulu Civil Beat story. “It seems to be kind of like an urban legend.”
Villarosa’s quote doesn’t do her department justice. The problem with the regulation isn’t that the LC has busted places for it–it’s that it exists at all. It’s yet another potential hammer for the LC to bring down on an establishment’s fingers. Rather than risk even more trouble, establishments simply task their bouncers to do the LC’s dirty work for them.
Of course, Silva wouldn’t be such a successful bureaucrat if he wasn’t charming. Indeed, his white hair and quiet demeanor gave him almost a grandfatherly appearance. Back in October 2006, I watched him speak at a Kiwanis Club lunch at old Cary & Eddie’s in Kahului.
“This actually happened,” he told the Kiwanis Club members as they silently ate their salads and barbecued chicken. Apparently, many years ago Silva’s investigators got word that there was a soda machine dispensing beer for a mere 75 cents in Lahaina. Intrigued, Silva sent his investigators to the Westside, and they soon found the machine, which in fact was dispensing beer. So Silva rented a truck, then drove out to the machine and seized it. Later he had the cops arrest the owner for selling liquor to minors.
“The guy goes to court and the judge fines him $50,” Silva said. “And then he ordered us to return the machine. I had to go rent another truck…”
Maybe you had to be there.
In most other places, Silva’s retirement would mark the end of an era–perhaps even spur a general housecleaning or even a few reforms. But not Maui County. On Oct. 7, the Liquor Commission chose one of their own–Dana Souza, an investigator with the Public Defender’s office–to succeed Silva. That’s right: they chose former director Joe Souza’s son to be the new director.
“Everybody felt he was the right person,” Liquor Commission Chairperson Robert Tanaka said in the Oct. 8 Maui News, as though the Commission had just completed an exhaustive process of interviewing potential candidates. I suppose we should be jumping for joy that the commission didn’t opt for one of Silva’s sons–Layne and Gene–who work as relatively high-ranking LC officers in the department’s Lahaina office.
To expect change at the LC in the wake of Silva’s retirement is like thinking the sun will rise in the west tomorrow. The Liquor Commission chose Dana Souza to take over because 1) They can and 2) No one in authority really cares. The LC basically runs itself autonomously within the County of Maui, creating and destroying bars and restaurants, beholden only to its own free-sushi-eating, noise-monitoring, timesheet-scrutinizing conscience.
So here’s to you, Frank Silva: Thanks for the memories, though none of them were good. And to you, Dana Souza: here’s hoping you can follow both your old man and your predecessor by serving a few decades and escaping into retirement before the allegations of misconduct get too hot.